Passing across our desk this month are Terminator: Dark Fate, Hustlers, The Lighthouse, and Frozen 2. Will they be scanned and archived for posterity, or moved directly to the shredder? Listen in and find out!
Terminator: Dark Fate
I’m one of those sad people who don’t want to give up on the Terminator, despite the bizarre best efforts of every movie since T2 to torpedo the franchise entirely. I skipped Salvation altogether, and I checked out halfway through Genisys because everything and everyone about it annoyed me so much my skin itched, and I just can’t understand the need for the stakeholders of the franchise to feel the need to reboot it.
So it was I dared to hope that there was hope when Dark Fate was announced, with James Cameron back on board albeit in a wishy-washy producer capacity, but apparently with the backing of Linda Hamilton and in the capable enough hands of Tim Miller. If, as promised, this movie was going to remove from canon everything since T2 and pick up where that movie left off I would, at the very least, give it a fair hearing and two hours of my time.
Now, if you haven’t already seen the movie and are concerned about spoilers then skip ahead ten minutes or use the chapter markers. If you have seen it then I am going to assume you agree with the overwhelming weight of public opinion that this is the third best movie in the franchise, and also that it remains completely unnecessary.
I suspect I was not alone in correctly guessing how Dark Fate would open, what with Edward Furlong dropping enough clues, and I was genuinely excited to find out I was correct. It is a bold reinvention indeed for a Terminator movie to cold open on a teenage John Connor getting a point blank chest full of double-ought buckshot as Sarah looks helplessly on, and I was immediately onboard for whatever this exciting divergence from the norm would deliver. After all, this was clearly not going to be another rehash of the exact same plot of machines from the future hunting down the eventual human leader of a post-apocalyptic resistance…
It may well be that I take to the grave the sense of absolute dismay this movie left me in, the sheer bewilderment at why the key original cast and the man who fucking invented the thing would sign back up and sweep the deck just to deliver the exact same movie again. Does Jim Cameron need the money for a new submarine or summat? And listen, there is some stuff I do like in here, and at least one aspect of the story that I think might have been an amazing opportunity to genuinely deliver something different. To wit; there is pretty good value to be had in a movie this high profile setting a key scene at a US-Mexico border concentration camp, but when you fail to capitalise on that with any kind of commentary or analysis whatsoever guess what you end up with? Just another location. I also like Mackenzie Davis quite a bit, though here she is really wasting her time in delivering lines with an energy her most significant costar, Linda “just give me the damn bottle” Hamilton, can’t really be bothered to match.
And did you notice that Natalia Reyes, who plays Dani Ramos, the new terminator’s target, didn’t get my costar billing there? That’s because there are huge swathes of the movie where we kind of forget she’s even a thing, and we’re then expected to drop our jaws at the most signposted “revelation” regarding her “character” in the latter stages of the movie, by which point I can promise you will not care.
Here’s my pitch for how this could have been a better movie and made a profit by turning in at $60m, a third of the actual budget: get rid of the daft explode-y plane sequence, have one nice set piece at the start, a nice set piece at the end, and in-between let me spend an hour with Arnie in his cabin in the woods learning about his journey since smoking John Connor, because in the five minutes expended on that particular plot development it is abundantly clear that it is the movie’s single interesting idea. Arnie even does a decent job of hitting some emotional beats, albeit robotically so, and I actually think he could have sustained that. I have no idea what people’s salaries were, but if they were that interested in coming back for “the right material” then my idea will see them happily taking a back end deal. Of course it couldn’t have happened because anyone who says the radical script attracted them to this movie didn’t read the script, so there’s a non-time travel paradox for you chew on.
So frustrating, and that’s before we delve into the lip service paid to gender equality by swapping in an almost exclusively female lead cast to a franchise that was already driven by a powerful female lead. Oops.
Based on a true story, but particularly on Jessica Pressler’s New York Magazine article about that story, Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers can be fairly quickly summed up by the article’s title, The Hustlers at Scores – A modern Robin Hood story: the strippers who stole from (mostly) rich, (usually) disgusting men and gave to, well, themselves.
That headline certainly gives a more accurate idea of the story than do the trailers, which paint Hustlers as a story of righteous indignation and retribution against those on Wall Street who didn’t suffer from the financial crash in the way that they ought to have done. It certainly involves ludicrously highly-paid Wall Street bankers and traders, but it’s really more of a straight up crime story than some of the marketing might lead you to expect.
Set in 2014, the film is framed, sort of, as an interview, with Constance Wu’s Dorothy (or Destiny, when she worked at the strip club) relating to the at first unseen interviewer how she began working at a Manhattan strip club, catering largely to Wall Street workers and other big earners, happy to drop $10, 000 a night on drinks and private dances. Destiny struggles to make much money at first, but she encounters the club’s top talent, Jennifer Lopez’s Ramona, who takes her under her wing, and soon she’s paying off her Grandma’s debts and buying expensive clothes and cars, all with single dollar bills.
After the financial crash of 2008 the Wall Street guys are less inclined to spend big, and Destiny and Ramona find work elsewhere, and drift apart as friends. A few years later and a broke Destiny, now with a young daughter, ends up back at the club, but finds it a changed place, with the no touching policy having been, shall we say, relaxed somewhat. But she runs into Ramona again, who recruits her into her new wheeze: finding the Wall Street guys they knew, drugging them with a mixture of ketamine and ecstasy, and then running up huge tabs on their credit cards, of which they get a cut from the club. And soon everybody’s in on it, before it inevitably explodes and arrests are made.
While the characters here are quite easy to like (there’s only one stereotypically bitchy fellow stripper), the problem is that it’s hard to feel much, if any sympathy, for them and their inevitable downfall. I have no issue with the dislike of the finance folk, but a bunch of people who drug people and rip them off because they fancy a new fur coat? No. But Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez are fairly engaging onscreen (though Lopez much more so), and the whole film is reasonably entertaining, though I don’t care much for the structure and shifting framing. However, it’s the inconsistency with which it’s used that bothers me, not the devices themselves: if Julia Stiles as the journalist hadn’t been dropped in so late I doubt I’d have been bothered by the attempts to illustrate redacted or off the record comments.
Hustlers isn’t great, but it’s reasonably entertaining and earns itself a recommendation for being a crime film with a predominantly female cast, something which is rare, and from the perspective of a female writer and director, which gives it a tone different from a lot of comparable films that I’ve seen: for example, I doubt many films about strippers written by men would focus so much on the workplace politics or the practicalities of relationships with such long hours, and it’s certainly likely that the women’s bodies would be shown more revealing, more often, and with more titillation in mind. It is still there, though, particularly in a spectacularly athletic demonstration (she’s fifty!) from Lopez, the film’s standout in every way.
Disclaimer alert: there will be a lot of disclaimers here.
Disclaimer: When my wife and I came to the realisation we were going to be together for a long time I professed to her that, had I not met her, I could have happily lead the life of a single man in the relatively solitary existence of a lighthouse keeper. Of course there isn’t really such a thing these days; bloody machines (see Terminator: Dark Fate review for more details). So it was we decided to get married and I spent the rest of my life merely imagining myself as the guardian of that last bastion against the cold, uncaring brutality of the open sea. The point being I really like lighthouses.
Fortunately Robert Eggers, he of 2015’s critically well-received The VVitch, is here with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson to explain to me quite why this lighthouse keeping malarkey is not all that is cracked up to be, and how right my decision to settle down turned out to be. Not that the movie is explicit in that, mind you; I don’t think Robert Eggers thought of me even once throughout this movie’s production, but that is what I am choosing to read into it.
And I choose to read that into it because The Lighthouse is one of those movies that invites you to take away whatever you like really, with Eggers himself distilling the theme as “no good can come of two men being trapped together inside a phallus.”
Arriving together at a remote lighthouse where they expect to spend a couple of weeks before relief arrives, Dafoe’s grizzled wickie Thomas Wake and Pattinson’s greenhorn Ephraim Winslow end up spending a lot more time than they bargained for when they are beset by an apocalyptic storm that grounds any relief. Worse than that their food supplies are also ruined, and the pair find their already hair-trigger relationship further stoked by the influence of alcohol. Cue a lot of shouting, sea shanties, homoerotic tension, tentacles and mermaids.
Apparently this was based loosely on an actual tragedy that befell two Welsh lighthouse keepers at the turn of the 20th century. I currently live in Wales, and I can confirm that this is pretty normal behaviour, so perhaps some of the barrier for entry has been removed for me. I suspect the ramping up of insanity may not be to everyone’s taste, but here comes another disclaimer:
Disclaimer: when I first moved from digital to film photography I began shooting on medium format black and white film, primarily orthochromatic, and in a square frame. The tonality of that film, particularly when dealing with portraiture, is extraordinary, and I found myself drawn to the square format because it drew out a natural tendency toward symmetry rather than the traditional rule of thirds, and often in relation to architecture. The reason I want to bore you with that is because The Lighthouse is shot on black and white film stock, approximating orthochromatic by use of custom blue filters, and within an almost square ration of 1.19:1. There is also an awful lot of use of symmetry within the frame, frequently within an architectural context. The filmmaker’s intention is to heighten the sense of claustrophobia, but what I’m saying is this film essentially bypasses a great many of my critical faculties en route to my aesthetic pleasure centres, and I’m not necessarily going to give you the most objective view of it.
If I am completely honest I think the film loses it’s pacing a little around the latter half, and I had some reservations around Pattinson’s accent, but by and large that’s as much negative feedback as I can muster. Perhaps my compatriots will afford you further insight, but I’m going to be watching this again this coming weekend and have already ordered a physical copy so that I can listen to the director’s commentary.
In which the animated musical adventures of Elsa and co. continue, in pretty much the same way as before, but with less memorable songs. Inoffensive. The kids will probably like it, adults less so.
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